With options such as Coachella and Hang Out Fest, you may wonder why I opt for Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The festival doesn’t feature Top 40 headliners, and isn’t located on a beach, but is still one of the best music festivals and one I will never miss. It’s not just one particular aspect of the festival that makes this festival so incredible, but rather a combination of all the elements.
Photo: Ali Gates
1. The Surroundings
The festival is set up in Town Park in downtown Telluride, with the ski resort as a stage backdrop and Bridal Veil Falls behind the crowd. While the venue is relatively small (only accommodating 12,000 into the gates), many more music lovers relax outside of the gates to listen and enjoy the music while tubing down the San Miguel river or laying in a hammock in the shade. It’s a toss-up between attending the festival for the full four days or taking a day off to mountain bike Telluride Ski Resort, conquer Mt. Wilson, or jeep across Imogene Pass to soak in Ouray’s abundant hot springs. There are almost too many amazing things going on in Telluride during the Bluegrass Festival, but being in the festival grounds at dusk to soak in the Alpenglow surrounding you is a lifelong memory you must experience.
2. The Festivarians
Telluride Bluegrass Festival participants are lovingly referred to as “Festivarians” and these young, old, hippie, yuppie, banjo-loving folk will be your brothers and sisters for four bonding days. Telluride Bluegrass Festival is considered a small production with only a 12,000 person capacity, it feels even smaller as you share tarps, water, and shade tents. Walking around the grounds it is easy to notice familiar faces, even from year to year, and friendly Festivarians will always invite you to play Euchre or Cornhole in between acts. While you many not have much in common with these folks for the rest of the year, while you are at Telluride Bluegrass Festival you truly feel a part of a Festivarian Family.
Photo: Rob Lee
3. The Accomodations
Some people choose to rent homes on the mountain or in downtown during the festival, and you can spot these Festivarians because they look showered and well-groomed. The majority of Festivarians camp at designated public places around town - the high school field, the outfield of a baseball diamond, and at Town Park. The festival uses local school busses to shuttle Festivarians to and from the main gates, and you feel like you are on a grade-school field trip with each ride. Someone usually has a guitar on the bus, and at night as Festivarians are crammed into standing-room only busses, boisterous sing-alongs are required, not an option. Back at camp, you become very friendly with your tent neighbors, and falling asleep to subdued jam sessions is the greatest way to end a shared day of music.
And last, but certainly not least...
4. The Music
Bluegrass is not a widely popular genre of music, but even if you cannot name one bluegrass artist (or song, or band), you will still enjoy this festival. The feet-stomping fiddle and banjo melodies will make you shed your inhibitions and kick out your legs in a dervish dance. Bluegrass music also has extensive crossover into other music genres, and the festival does an excellent job of featuring musicians who fall into the country, classic rock, and singer-songwriter genres. And while Sam Bush and the Telluride House Band will always keep the festival true to its name, the headliner of the long weekend is generally not a traditional bluegrass band.
There are many more amazing aspects to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival that make this unique festival one that you should attend. But part of understanding what makes this festival so incredible requires you immersing yourself in the moment, and becoming a Festivarian yourself.
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